Senior theses amid Covid-19: theatre majors won’t wait in the wings

By Acadia Klepeis

Despite the option to complete their senior thesis projects in the spring, several senior theatre majors have chosen to face the pandemic head-on and complete their projects this fall, embracing the challenge in the hopes of a richer end result. 

After three years of exploring the variety of theatrical areas required of the major (including acting, directing, stage design, literature and playwriting), each senior selects one facet to focus on. Ian Hanson ’21 and Zoe Samuels ’21 have chosen playwriting, meaning that each will write a complete play for their thesis.

 Hanson got his start in theatre as a kid by playing an Oompa Loompa in the musical “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. A world of pure imagination, as it were, is now central to his thesis — a science-fiction play. Under the working title “How to Name Your Planet,” the piece focuses on two characters trying to survive on another planet. The work was heavily influenced by playwriting courses Hanson took with Professor of Mathematics Steve Abbott and Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone. 

In contrast, Samuels grounds her work in reality. Inspired in part by playwright Annie Baker, Samuels’ work centers around the everyday. Like her previous play “Grocery Girl,” Samuels’ thesis offers a very detailed glimpse into people’s lives and the connections they make with others. 

This summer’s quarantine provided ample time for both Hanson and Samuels to begin writing and planning out the flows of their plays. At the beginning of the fall semester, they had to present their thesis adviser with a third of the play in addition to a synopsis and a full breakdown of each scene. After a semester’s worth of hard work and revision, each hopes to hold a reading of their play in December, whether in person or over Zoom.

For her thesis, Katie Marshall ’21 is curating a collection of monologues and scenes from various authors and time periods. She began selecting pieces over the summer and was able to connect with the college’s alumni for suggestions. As an actress, her thesis experience has been dramatically altered by the college’s Covid-19 regulations. She and her peers have rehearsed dialogues with masks on and hope to gain access to more indoor spaces as Phase Two continues. 

For now, the unusual circumstances have allowed them to pursue more experimental forms of expression. “How do we create connection when we can’t touch? How do we form a relationship when we are six feet apart?” Marshall asked. 

Despite the obstacles, Marshall is optimistic. “It’s not like just because there’s a pandemic, there’s not going to be theatre. People crave stories and we’re going to find a way to give that to the people,” she said.

Both Samuels and Marshall spent their last spring semester studying abroad at Oxford, meaning that they had not set foot on campus since last December. After such a long time away, it has been odd for them to see so many unfamiliar faces. 

Nonetheless, each student offers a ray of hope. “I’m seeing more people on campus than I ever have before, on every patch of green,”  Samuels said. Marshall spoke about her “urge to create” and how encouraged she has been by her fellow students’ desire to collaborate. After a truncated spring semester, there is a clear sense of gratitude to be on campus and creating theatre at all.